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California Legislature

Bill to create 'safe injection sites' for drug users fails in California Senate

A man prepares heroin he bought on the street to be injected at the Insite safe injection clinic in Vancouver, Canada. (Darryl Dyck / Associated Press)
A man prepares heroin he bought on the street to be injected at the Insite safe injection clinic in Vancouver, Canada. (Darryl Dyck / Associated Press)

A controversial proposal to allow certain California counties and cities to establish sites where people could inject drugs without legal consequences stumbled in the state Senate on Tuesday night.

The measure, by Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton), would establish a first-in-the-nation program in which users of heroin and other intravenous drugs could inject in settings with clean needles and under the supervision of trained staff. The goal: to stave off overdoses in an era in which heroin use is on the rise.

San Francisco is already in discussions to develop an injection center, which is modeled after a site in Vancouver, Canada. State Sen. Scott Wiener, a Democrat who represents San Francisco, said the proposal "gets to the core of who we are as a society in terms of how we respond to that public health crisis."

"One thing that unites us on both sides of the aisle is we all want people to get off drugs and lead healthy, successful lives," Wiener said on the Senate floor. "To my colleagues I would ask: How are we doing? How the heck are we doing? I think pretty darn poorly."

Though supporters saw the potential sites — which the bill would allow in eight counties including Los Angeles and San Joaquin — as a preventive measure against drug deaths, opponents warned such venues would enable illegal activity.

Sen. Ted Gaines (R-El Dorado Hills) said safe injection sites would "create sanctioned shooting galleries for street heroin."

Republicans were unanimous in their opposition, but ultimately the bill was felled by several Democrats who abstained or voted no. The measure came up two votes short, but it still could come up for a second try before the Legislature adjourns at the end of this week.

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